Thursday, March 10, 2011

Denver Mayoral Election – Will There Be Vision?

The election of the next mayor of Denver is as important as the election of the Colorado governor. Denver’s mayor, working with the region’s political and civic leadership, can, if they have the vision and leadership skills, help develop and design the key projects and programs that drive the region’s economy and quality of life improvements in the next decade.

Only the Denver mayor has the visibility and resources to promote both Denver and regional agendas, many of which will constitute the largest infrastructure projects in the state. The Denver airport was the state’s largest construction project for half a decade, and still constitutes a major source of construction activity and is a huge economic generator.

Denver has been fortunate to have a series of high-quality mayors who have helped maintain the city’s leading position in the metro area and state.

After several years of population decline, like most older cities surrounded by growing suburbs, Denver began to reverse the trend after the 1990 census. As of the latest count, the city has continued to add population and retain its first position in the region. Equally important, the city has maintained its economic vitality. Regional sales tax figures show Denver collected 30 percent of the sales tax in 1989 and receives 29 percent today. An amazing feat given the population and business growth in the suburbs and the comparative track record of core cities in other metro areas around the country.

Denver’s modern mayors – Federico Pena, Wellington Webb and John Hickenlooper – helped create a civic momentum that has kept the city and region progressing. Denver also had a civic and business leadership willing to join with political leaders to make investments in civic improvements that have maintained the city’s economic vitality and quality of life.

Pena started a flurry of plans and new projects in 1983 that laid the groundwork for 30 years of growth – a new convention center, new expanded airport, development of retail nodes on Broadway, Highlands and other sites, the baseball stadium, and LoDo investments, just cite a slice of one of Denver’s most productive decades in its history.

Webb got the airport opened in 1995, focused on in-fill in the newly opened up Stapleton and Lowry sites, promoted the sports venues Invesco Field and the Pepsi Center, and dedicated considerable passion to development of the Platte River Valley and its lower downtown connections.

Hickenlooper continued the investments as he began his two terms with a new justice center and half a billion dollars in bonds for improvements throughout the city. But, Hickenlooper added a regional perspective working with the suburbs on joint economic development projects, transit and water solutions.

Thus far, the 2011 mayoral candidates have lacked much in the way of vision and investment strategies. They feel Denver’s possibilities are constrained with a deep recession and multiple years of $100 million deficits. And, indeed, structural fiscal reform is the top priority. But, 1985 was an economic low point as Denver began its long climb to its revenue and two decades of growth.

See Denver Post article:  Denver’s budget deficit a serious problem for new leadership

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